Moving house and freaking out

“How do you cope with change?” is one of those stock questions you tend to get asked in job interviews and a good answer usually goes along the lines of “Change is part of everyday life and you have to embrace the positives and the challenges” etc. etc.

I’ve given those answers in interviews before and, on the whole, I generally believe in them. However, if someone had stopped me in the street and asked me the same thing during the last week in October, the first thing I’d have said (apart from “Sorry, who are you and why are you asking me random questions?” or “Please let go of my coat”) would have been “Well, I’m currently handling change VERY, VERY BADLY”.

We moved house just over a month ago.

I had lived in Dorking for over ten years and – with my old family home long since sold – it had become my adopted home in more ways than one, ever since I moved there in the spring of 2006. I had a one-bedroom flat near the centre of town for those first five years and I met my wife just over a year afterwards. We got married in 2009 and then we moved into what is now our old house in the summer of 2011. In all honesty, for most of the time I was never really that fond of the house and I kept telling myself that it was just a stepping stone to somewhere else once we had (hopefully) started a family.

By the end of our time there though, I had genuinely come to see it as home and had even embraced its little quirks. For instance, there was something strangely comforting in the winter about the smell of the dehumidifier that we needed in the bedroom because of the slight damp problem, whilst decorating the place for Halloween became less of a job because the vast numbers of spiders that lived in the roof of the conservatory did a pretty good job of it themselves. Even the cracked bathtub casing that had been there since before we moved in became less of an annoyance and more of a routine topic of conversation (“we’ll replace the whole thing eventually”). We never did.

Mainly though, I came to warm to it because of the memories it will always hold. It was the first place we bought both of our children home to. It was the place where they had their first birthdays, first Christmases and where they grew up to become the lovely little people that we have now. On the week that we moved out, I thought about the fact that the person buying our house would probably, as one of their first jobs, take down the wallpaper that had adorned Millie’s bedroom since just before she was born and my heart broke a little.

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But the truth was, we needed to move. There were now four of us and we’d outgrown the house. We’d simply run out of space and it didn’t seem fair for Millie to have to share a room with Henry’s grumpiness every single morning (she once tried to sing him back to sleep with the angriest version of ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’ that I’m ever likely to hear). On the flipside, Henry probably didn’t appreciate Millie’s lack of spatial awareness and blatant disregard of what constitutes speaking in a ‘little voice’ on those occasions when he was actually trying to sleep.

Another consideration was that our new neighbours for the final year of us living there were pretty rude and inconsiderate – I’m actually being diplomatic here, partly because I don’t want to come across as intolerant and partly because both of my parents read this and don’t like me swearing. Essentially, they’d moved in an starting renovating their kitchen the very same week we bought Henry home from the hospital, not letting us know when they were planning to do the work, which always coincided with those precious few moments of sleep that my wife was desperately hoping to have. The neighbourly relations deteriorated over the next few months. Key moments included their bathroom renovation (maybe they had a cracked bathtub casing as well) which we only found out about when they started hammering on the walls one Saturday morning, which also placed their new ‘power shower’ on the adjoining wall next to Millie’s room and subsequently reverberated loudly every time they turned it on. Then there were the late, loud drunken parties and the obligatory parking issues…but I digress.

Having made the decision, it was easy to be swept up in the initial excitement about finding a new house. We didn’t look at many but there was one house that we both agreed on and I can’t emphasise in writing how much of a surprise this was to me at the time. We accepted an offer on our house in June and put in a successful bid for our new place shortly after. Then, as is often the case with these things, the process dragged on and on. Henry was too young to be aware of anything going on – he was just happy smearing pieces of soggy biscuit over everything we were trying to pack – but Millie was understandably unsettled about it all. She had a pretty good idea about what was happening, having watched the (seemingly countless) episodes of Topsy and Tim that involved the family moving to a new house one street away, without any hitches or problems whatsoever. For realism, I would have preferred at least one scene where the Dad gesticulates loudly because he can’t find the packing tape and bubble wrap.

So, we were worried about how Millie would transition. One of the first things we did once we were in was to make sure that her bedroom was set up for her, so that she would at least have her bed, toys and clothes in her new room as her ‘constants’ in order to make it all seem less scary.

As it turns out, it wasn’t her that struggled with the change, it was me.

After the adrenaline rush of moving day itself, I can’t really describe what happened other than to say I pretty much froze. I was hit by the panic that I’d moved far away from everybody and everything that I knew. In many ways, it was irrational as my mum was only 15-20 minutes further away than she had been, whilst at least three or four of my closest friends are slightly nearer (in terms of travel time, if not distance). Even so, for the first few days I couldn’t even bring myself to walk the length of the new garden, let alone summon the energy to unpack and move furniture. I felt totally lost and adrift, I couldn’t eat and was unable to think clearly or focus on even the simplest of tasks. Prior to the move, I hadn’t even considered the possibility that I’d feel remotely this way (other than getting sad when I ordered our final takeaway from Red Chilli on our last night in Dorking).

My lethargy was the polar opposite to my wife, who could have set Olympic records in nesting, so furious was her mindset to get the house looking as much like ‘ours’ as possible. It’s to her immense credit that we’ve made a great deal of progress on the house since moving day and for that, I am very grateful.

In the moments when I’m being kinder to myself, I remember that, in the last few months, I’ve left a job that I loved (one of the ironic downsides of contracting is finding somewhere you really want to stay, but are unable to) as well as having left my adopted home town after over a decade there. Friends and family have spoken to have largely reassured me that it’s normal and all part of being human, all of which has helped make me feel a bit better.

So, it’s been a weird few weeks but, on an upbeat note, the children have settled in surprisingly easily, they have a bigger space to play in and their own bedrooms. Plus, Christmas is coming and we now have an actual fireplace to hang our Christmas stockings on, as opposed to tying them onto the stair bannisters with random pieces of string.

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I’ve also managed to write something on here for the first time in 10 months. It’s going to take me a while, but maybe I can start to embrace the positives of change after all…

Month of Mondays

I read a tweet today that started with the phrase ‘January is the Monday of months’. It’s a sentiment I can wholeheartedly agree with, not least because I spent most of last month wandering around in a grumpy daze, being generally hap-hazard and wishing that it would be over. Here’s a small selection of reasons why:

I made another child cry at a birthday party: Honestly, I’m terrified at the thought of children’s parties taking over our lives at the weekends in the years to come. This is partly because I know the chances of me doing something stupid and/or awkward are enhanced in such situations. This particular example was (I think) only my third experience of being a parent at another child’s birthday party and on the previous two occasions, I’d managed to hide in the corner by the crisps and dip, so well out of harm’s way. 

 

On this occasion, I tried to be helpful. Big mistake. 

 

When the children sat down for food, I noticed that the little girl sitting next to M was having trouble with her party hat. I went to help and apparently managed to put the hat on her with no problem. Or so I thought as, five seconds later, the girl started to cry. As her mum came over, it became apparent that the girl’s bigger sister was sitting next to her and, if you’ll excuse me for being childish, was a massive tell-tale. “THAT MAN made her cry” said the older girl, pointing to me in the style of a witness in an over-dramatic television courtroom scene. “I’m really sorry” I said to the mum. “I was only trying to help with her hat”. The mum seemed ok about it, but any parenting confidence I had tried to build up disappeared quicker than the cocktail sausages on M’s plate. This was even before I inadvertently parked a sleeping H’s buggy right next to the music speaker…

The hopes of two nights’ uninterrupted sleep were cruelly dashed: I have a confession to make. Last week, I was away Istanbul for two nights on a business trip and a little part of me was looking forward to it. Obviously, I would miss my little family a lot but I couldn’t help but think about two uninterrupted nights of sleep sound-tracked only by the comforting whirr of the air-conditioning unit in my hotel room. Needless to say, it didn’t quite work out like I hoped. The first night was spent trying to work out why the air-con wasn’t working, trying to adjust to the two-hour time difference, trying to log on to the hotel WIFI so that I could ‘face-time’ with my family and, above all, trying and failing to sleep. The second night was spent feeling progressively poorly, panicking that the planned all-seafood menu in the restaurant that my colleagues and I were eating in was going to make me feel even worse, eventually feeling even worse, wondering if I was going to be sick in the taxi and then being VERY sick when I got back to my room. The next morning was spent trying to sleep it off but being continually disturbed by knocks on my room door accompanied by a shout of “HOUSEKEEPING!”

 

Apparently, a scribbled note outside the door saying ‘Please do not disturb’ is not always effective. On a positive note – back in the UK, my wife and children apparently slept soundly on both of those nights.

Potty training: To be fair, this could have been far worse as we started in the week between Christmas and new year. M has picked it up generally quickly, although the process has not been without accidents or desperate purchases of more Dettol wipes than usual (our poor sofa cushions). Going into February, M now seems to be able to sit herself on the toilet/potty without clinging onto our shoulders for the whole time, so I’m hoping that this means I’m spared hearing every detailed squeeze, splat and splash of her bodily functions at close quarters.

Tantrums: I’m really hoping that the current strops that M seems to be throwing with alarming regularity are as a result of her own January slump. She seems to be arguing and cross about everything at the moment, especially when my wife has the nerve to start feeding H approximately five seconds before M demands her attention (funny, that). We’ve had an apocalyptic screaming fit about being denied a packet of Mini Cheddars whilst in the car(“MUMMY, WHY WON’T YOU LOOK AT ME?!) We’ve had a thrashing, yelling tantrum about the fact she wanted her miniature princess toys in bed with her and we’ve had all manner of kicking, drink-throwing and stamping hissy-fits about…well…I don’t really know. Also, when you don’t do EXACTLY what she wants during a game or activity, she tells you in no uncertain terms that it’s wrong (“No, no, no, no, NO!”)

 

Coughs and colds: Maybe part of the reason we’ve had the tantrums is because M is coming down with something. We’ve found that, at this time of year, she tends to have a cough equivalent to a 40-a-day smoker. H has been congested for what seems like weeks as well. All the vapour plugs and tummy rubs don’t seem to do anything about the fact that his blocked sinuses make him sound like a pig trying to play the trombone.

Logistics: There’s a great Michael McIntyre sketch about him trying to leave the house with his two sons. Now, with two young children, my wife and I can totally relate to how you have to start planning to leave the house an hour before you were scheduled to. This gets even worse in January with the extra coats, jumper, wellies, gloves, packets of Mini Cheddars  (we’ve learnt our lesson now) on top of the usual drinks, bags, baby wraps, spare pants, portable potties…this is even before we get to the protracted negotiations with M about what toys are being taken along with us, why it’s not really necessary to set the iPad up for ‘Topsy and Tim’ episodes when we’ve only got a 15-minute journey, why we are even going out in the first place and exhausted parental cries of “can you PLEASE put your socks back on!”

 

So, January, I’m not sorry to see you go. I know you’ve tried to win me over by bringing Crème Eggs back to the shops early (a crafty move), but I won’t miss you for these next 11 months. See you again in 2017…

Oh come, all ye fretful

  


It was Sunday evening. We’d decided to go to a Christmas carol service at the local church. I’m a little apprehensive about taking both the children with us for fear that the birth of the baby Jesus is going to be sound-tracked by H’s baby bowel movements and M’s random stories about dinosaurs, all enhanced by the church acoustics. The promise of a mince pie and sloe gin afterwards keeps me focused though and we are also due to meet some friends and their two young children there as well. So, if M kicks off – I thought – we have safety in numbers.

 

We arrive early to a packed church with hardly any seats left. After a lot of festive faffing, we find ourselves pressed into a pew near the middle (not conducive if we need to make a swift exit). Our friends manage to squeeze themselves into a corner at the back. I think that it’s actually really quite nice that so many people still flock to Christmas Carol services. Most of whom, I imagine, would not have expected a two-and-a-half year old to act as if she were drunk…

 

Here’s how the evening panned out:

 

Greeting/First Carol: M is wedged in between her mum and I, whilst my wife has H strapped to her using the baby wrap. M’s quiet at this point because she’s still weighing up the situation. Meanwhile, I’m absolutely sweltering in my fleece and unable to take it off because doing so would also lift up my t-shirt to reveal a shameful ‘Dad podge’ – a legacy of the fact that I’ve barely exercised in the last month. I also really need a wee.

 

First Reading: It goes quiet as the first reader takes their place at the lectern. They’ve probably practiced endlessly and have waited weeks for this moment. They are maybe rather nervous, but proud. They open their mouth to speak but their words are almost immediately punctuated by the sound of a toddler loudly asking “WHERE’S MY FRIEND?” Her Mum and I explain that her friend is at the back of the church with her Mummy and Daddy and that it would be really nice if M spoke in a whispering voice. The exact type of voice that both Mummy and Daddy are using now, but without the air of embarrassment and desperation.

 

Second Carol: M has got the idea that she can stand on the pew when we all stand up to sing. She does so, but also marches on a spot a bit as well, lending a more out-of-tune, percussive feel to ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’ than is really necessary. Suddenly, those Zara boots we bought for her don’t seem like such a good idea. 

 

Second Reading: “WHERE’S THE LADY?” With no thought for my own bladder, I sit M on my lap so she can see the lady reading the second lesson.

 

Third Carol: (for which the choir sing the first verse and the congregation remain seating): M struggles to grasp with the concept that the congregation don’t join in with the first verse, so she turns around and loudly implores everyone to “STAND UP!!” I sit her down and my wife frantically explains the situation to M, before she can accuse anyone of spilling her pint.

 

Third Reading: “WHAT’S THE LADY SAYING??”

 

Fourth Carol: Calm is resumed. I breathe. It’s still really warm though, so I’m desperately hoping for a draft or a small gust of air from somewhere, anywhere. There are people in the church with thick winter coats on – how are they not just sweat puddles by now? “DADDY, WHY AREN’T YOU SINGING?” asks my inquisitive daughter during one of the quieter bits. “Because Daddy has a singing voice like a strangled cockerel”, I don’t reply. Instead I mime exuberantly, as if Christmas itself depends on it.

 

Fourth Reading:  M is studying the order of service and then drops it. I pick it up, she drops it again. All this leaning forward is not helping.

 

Fifth Carol: Choir only, this time. My wife and I realise the next two hymns are also choir only. We exchange a worried look and start to wonder how many people would notice if we snuck out mid-carol.

 

Fifth Reading: M is still sitting on my lap. She starts bouncing up and down. My bladder is NOT IMPRESSED. Meanwhile, H has woken up and immediately demands to be fed. My wife springs into action like a breast-feeding ninja and H is sucking away quite happily within 20 seconds. 

 

Sixth Carol: M is looking at the leaflet again and decides to enter into a Q&A with her mum as to where the three wise men in the picture are going: 

–          M: “ARE THEY GOING TO SCHOOL?”

–          My wife (quietly): “No, they’re off to see the baby Jesus…can you speak in a quiet little voice, please?”

–          M: “NO, THEY ARE GOING TO SCHOOL!” *waves leaflet frantically, hitting a feeding H on the head with it*

–          My wife: “Shhhhhhhh!!”

 

Sixth Reading:  M has discovered the little yellow envelopes that are at the end of the pew for the church donations. A lot of them end up on the floor. There are also a couple of pens there so , thankfully, this keeps her amused during the reading. 

 

Seventh Carol: As well as holding M as we resume the standing (and stamping) for ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’, I fill in my address details on one of the few envelopes that hasn’t now been defaced and place some coins inside. Who says men can’t multi-task?

 

Seventh Reading:  “I WANT COINS IN HERE”- M thrusts an empty envelope in our faces. To distract her, I frantically find an envelope that she hasn’t yet scribbled on. She duly obliges.

 

Eighth Carol: The collection occurs during this one. The man collecting the envelopes picks up the discarded, scribbled-on ones from the floor (as well as the laminated description as to why the yellow envelopes are there in the first place) and places them back on the pew. I mouth “thank you” and smile apologetically. He ignores me.

 

Eighth Reading: Is this one of the longer ones? It feels like one of the longer ones. M’s getting really restless now. It won’t be long before the birth of baby Jesus is being proclaimed alongside a loud verbal request to watch ‘The Snowman’ for the umpteenth time this weekend.

 

Ninth Carol: I need to wee. I need to wee. I need to w…OH COME LET US ADOOOORE HIM!

 

Ninth Reading/Blessing: For her swansong, M decides to try and go for a walk around. She makes it to the end of the pew before tripping over her own fleece which was by my feet, staggers backwards and lands loudly in a heap of hymn books, coats and order of service leaflets, ending up at the feet of the man sitting next to my wife. In her own ‘mic drop’ moment, she picks herself up and immediately struts towards our friends at the back of the church, oblivious to the fact she nearly trips up an elderly lady with a walking stick.

 

Merry Christmas, everyone 😀

Things not to say to your wife when she’s in labour

Picture the scene: It’s 6am on a cool autumnal morning one month ago. My wife and I are at the hospital, having received notice a few hours earlier that our son was beginning his journey into the world. After previously indicating that she would prefer a water birth, my wife is now duly sitting in a large bathtub in one the rooms inside the hospital’s birthing unit. The lights are dim, it’s a calming atmosphere and there is a large mural painted on the main wall depicting a wood adorned with bluebells.  The contractions have begun. Those of us not immersed in water (myself, my mother in law and two midwives), wait by the side of the tub. A high-pitched wail comes from an adjoining room. We all pretend not to hear it.

For my part, I am poised. Kneeling beside the tub/pool/massive container of water that also holds my wife, I am gripping the ‘gas n air’ contraption in one hand, whilst my other hand rests on a 2-litre bottle of Evian water. I have been administering both at fairly frequent intervals, along with a pack of Bassett’s Jelly Babies that are within arm’s reach. There hasn’t been a contraction for a couple of minutes so I briefly allow my mind to wander. There is a song playing on Heart radio in the background that I quite like, so I momentarily tune in. I’m more of a rock fan but this song has a pleasant pop vibe that seems to fit well with the current atmosphere. I think to myself that it sounds a bit like Taylor Swift and that I’d ‘Shazam’ it if it weren’t for the fact that both my hands were otherwise engaged and, frankly, using a music app on my phone at this moment in time would probably be frowned upon anyway…

“OOOOOH!” comes the cry from the bathtub.

“Are you ok?” I turn to my wife and ask – a split-second reaction with nothing but concern and helpful intentions in mind.

Snatching the ‘gas n air’ from my grasp, my wife inhales deeply before responding to my innocent question in much more detail than I was anticipating, peppering her answer with more industrial language than I should probably type here and leaving me in no doubt that no, she was not ok, that I should simply be saying more encouraging phrases instead and that the baby really needs to get a jolly old move on.

I mutter that it was just a momentary reaction but, in hindsight, I don’t think I had been told off like that since I shattered one of my parents’ light fittings having decided – at age 14 or thereabouts – to practice my golf swing indoors.

Fortunately, for me at least, more inappropriate ramblings from the aforementioned Heart radio would soon eclipse my innocent question. My wife’s contractions were getting more frequent and it was fair to say that she wasn’t really in the mood for light-hearted radio ‘banter’, especially when said banter consisted of one of the presenters repeatedly saying how much she was struggling with a cold and eliciting as much sympathy from her co-workers as she could. Under normal circumstances, this would probably be unfortunate timing and nothing more, but to my wife – rather competitive at the best of times – this was like prodding a (heavily pregnant) bear with a stick. Needless to say, I doubt there has ever been a more impassioned request to change stations in the entire history of radio broadcasting.

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Within two hours, our son had been born. I will spare you all the details but it all got a bit dramatic towards the end. In a nutshell: a shoulder got stuck, an emergency cord got pulled and around a dozen people rushed into the room to assist with the final seconds of delivery, most of whom weren’t dressed in medical clothing and appeared to be a conference delegation who had taken a wrong turn. It all happened in a flash. The hospital staff were amazing, my wife was amazing, brave, brilliant and so many other glowing adjectives.

Meanwhile, I was still holding the ‘gas n air’.

In the end, H (an abbreviation, we honestly didn’t choose to name him after a favourite member of Steps) weighed 9lb 8oz and, at the time of typing, seems generally happy and healthy, aside from a couple of niggling issues which should hopefully sort themselves out over time.

For instance, we’ve had to consult a cranial osteopath due to an arching back of his neck that makes him look like he’s being overly dramatic and his leg is also bent in a little which, to be honest I hadn’t actually noticed despite the vast array of nappies that we’ve had to change in the last four weeks or so (quite how much babies poo is one of those things that is now vividly coming back to me). He also grunts A LOT. I realise most babies do this but between the hours of 2am-5am most days, it sounds like we have a constipated herd of buffalo in the room with us.

But, he’s finally here and he makes our little family seem complete.

So, it was with a great deal of excitement (or as excited as I could be with only two hours sleep) that I prepared to introduce H to his big sister the following morning. We had been allowed home from the hospital the previous evening and had taken shifts in sitting up with H in our living room. I had the early morning shift and, when M came downstairs around 6am (again), I prepared myself for this wonderful ‘Kodak moment’.

“This is your brother”, I proudly proclaimed, presenting him like some sort of biblical offering.

M paused for a second, gave him a quick cursory glance, then turned back to me and said, “I want to watch Topsy and Tim”.

It was the second time in 24 hours that I’d apparently said the wrong thing.

Other notes:

–          A few weeks on, M has now really warmed up to the idea of a little brother. “He’s lovely” and “I love him,” she proudly states when giving him kisses and cuddles, of which there are plenty. It’s really adorable, except when her cuddles become a little over-zealous and start to resemble chokeholds.

–          I called my mother to ask if she could come over and baby-sit M at 1am on the morning we went to the hospital. I have a feeling that phone call may well hold the record for the largest number of apologies ever recorded within a 60-second conversation.

–          The song that I liked on the radio was indeed by Taylor Swift (‘Wildest Dreams’) so I at least got something right in that moment.

–          The new neighbours were still renovating their kitchen in the days immediately after H’s birth, which was not exactly ideal for catching up on sleep in the day. Both my wife and I very nicely asked them again how much longer it would take following the realisation that ‘2 days’ in their timeline actually means ‘2 weeks’. It’s almost over now (we hope) and they have since brought over a box of Guylian chocolates and a card by way of apology. So, there has fortunately been no need for a dirty nappy through their letterbox…

Downstairs…part 2

Sequels are usually disappointing – whether it’s a bold but ultimately futile attempt to move the story in a new direction (the second series of Broadchurch, for example), a lazy re-hashing of the earlier plot in a different setting (The Hangover Part II) or a tired continuation of the previous narrative that you’d hoped would have just finished after the first effort (Hello, ‘Saw’ franchise).

Which leads me to report that, continuing on from my last post, M’s loudly stated preference for sleeping on the sofa downstairs at night – instead of her bed – continues to occur.

Going with the assumption that she felt trapped by her cot – she used to frantically kick off her swaddling blankets when only a few weeks old, so this theory didn’t appear to be totally wide of the mark – we decided to go with the option of detaching one of the sides, in a bid to make it feel less like a wooden-slatted prison.

Surprisingly, given the monumental effort involved in assembling the whole thing in the first place, this task didn’t require the full-scale project plan and regular progress reports that we’d previously assumed. Instead, I just removed the screws and the wooden frame that prohibited M’s desire to go downstairs post-bedtime had come down. Even taking into account my distinct lack of DIY skills, there was no triumphant gaze to the heavens and no fist-pumping gesture of victory. The Scorpions didn’t even bother to write a song about it. It just happened.

So, you might wish to know, were the sleeping problems magically solved and the pleas to be taken downstairs curtailed?

Of course not.

Rather than just happily snooze away in her more accessible bed – which she loves jumping on and playing in during the day – M is now free to get out of bed, use her little fingers to prise the bedroom door open and waddle over to the stair-gate if she so wishes – which she does.

The first night this happened was actually rather scary. Not because of her, but instead because we thought that the house next door might be being burgled whilst the neighbours were away. It subsequently turned out that the mysterious shuffling noises we were hearing were as a result of a small child trying to walk across the landing in her sleeping bag.  On that occasion, I wasn’t too frustrated by her lack of sleep, as it was quite funny looking up the stairs, subsequently being greeted by a cheesy grin and a “Hello Daddy”. It also saved me from going outside to investigate a possible home invasion – although I’m not sure how scared off any potential intruder would have been by the sudden appearance of a man wearing tartan sweatpants and fluffy slippers, wielding a rolled-up copy of ‘World Soccer’ magazine.

So, the hope of making a breakthrough has dissipated and we appear to be back where we started, hoping that this is just a phase that will somehow get to a point where it just works itself out. In the meantime, we are still trying to work out work out ways of accelerating the process of getting to that point, preferably before I end up spending half of my salary on ‘Clarins Men’s Anti-Fatigue Fighter’ (other male skincare products are available).

One potential solution has been to lay a duvet and/or my old sleeping bag on her bedroom floor and sleep adjacent to the bed until she goes to sleep, with the hope that this method will get her used to sleeping soundly in her own space again, rather than waking up and yearning for the sofa. I should point out that the sleeping bag has been washed since my younger, drunker days, when it reeked ever so slightly of poor decision-making, Southern Comfort and Lynx Africa.

At the time of writing, this approach seemed to work last night and, from my viewpoint, was actually a bit like camping. In fact, for the brief period where I had my head by the nappy bin, it was more like festival camping.

So, tonight, we go again. I’m not expecting any sudden upturn in results but I would definitely settle for a gradual return to the good old days when she would, more often than not, sleep through the night in her own bed. Fingers crossed, then – I really hope this doesn’t become a trilogy.

The magic of downstairs

Up until fairly recently, M had always been a pretty good sleeper, more often than not sleeping through the night. My wife and I realise how fortunate we have been compared to a lot of parents with young children, to the extent that it has often felt a bit awkward speaking to fellow parents whose offspring are not necessarily as peaceful during the precious wee hours. We’ve tried to downplay it, worried about inadvertently appearing smug or somehow boastful.

Either way, the peaceful nights have recently come to an abrupt halt as M has, more often than not, decided to wake up around 1am/2am and called out for one or both us. We’ve awoken, rummaged around for our glasses and found her arms aloft – ‘Shawshank Redemption’ style – with her mouse in hand, pleading for us to take her away from the warmth of her bed to the dark, slight drafty land of downstairs.

Downstairs!

“Downstairs!”

At first, this seemed to be a curious request but I guess I can see her point – downstairs is so much more fun. After all, it holds all the milk, food and biscuits, the play kitchen and the inhabitants of Happy Land (none of whom – going by the contented, carefree grins on their faces – appear to have experienced the trials of being woken up at 2am). Downstairs also holds the television – gateway to the magical worlds of ‘In the Night Garden’, ‘Peter Rabbit’ and ‘Show Me, Show Me’ plus, for a brief but glorious period of time, the football that M would request after only the tiniest piece of encouragement from me.

Gina Ford would probably berate Mrs.D and I to within an inch of our lives because our response to this plea hasn’t always been consistent. Our first attempt at a solution was to go into her room and attempt to soothe her back to sleep, either via a cuddle, a reassuring hand on the tummy, a quick story or a couple of verses of ‘Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star’ – although quite how soothing that last option is remains highly debatable, given that the only thing that could make my singing voice even worse is the grumpy, half-conscious croak that comes with being woken up abruptly.

Given the basic desire to try and get back to sleep as soon as possible, the soothing often gets bypassed in favour of bringing her and mouse in to sleep with us (whilst telling her that downstairs itself is ‘asleep’) in the hope that the comforting presence of Mummy and Daddy will send her gently back to the land of nod. Very infrequently, this works. More often than not, none of us end up sleeping as M thrashes around and manages to take up most of the space, leaving her mum and I with our pillows resting on our bedside tables and dangling from the sides of the bed like a doomed Wile E. Coyote.

On the occasions we have managed to reclaim some territory, the flailing limbs and mouse-based facial flogging inevitably force us back out to the sides again.

So, the third solution is to adhere to her request and take M, her mouse and her pillow downstairs. Being too sleepy to sit and wait for her to fall asleep again, attempt to take her back up before she awakes again and discovers the ruse, it’s easier to set up camp for both of us in the living room. Our sofa is L-shaped so, without saying a word, we place her gently on the smaller section, with her head towards the corner, before quietly picking up the spare duvet now permanently parked by the side and hoping for some shut-eye. It doesn’t always work like that, of course. One particular night, I placed her in the usual place but, in the time it took me to gather the duvet, she had wriggled towards the centre of the sofa, leaving me with no option but to adopt a foetal position on the end.

Having not helped ourselves with our lack of a stable approach, we’ve tried to fathom what might be the cause of this change in pattern. Separation anxiety, maybe? Bad dreams? Fear of the dark? Just a normal stage in the growing-up process? We’ve tried other, more preventative methods based on these theories. For instance, I’ve placed some of her cuddly toys in her cot-bed to make it seem less like a wooden prison. Unfortunately, you could argue that this makes it instead seem like a particularly over-zealous job interview.

"Tell me about a time you worked as part of a team"

“Tell me about a time you worked as part of a team”

We’ve tried putting more of her toys upstairs as well – although this hasn’t been enough of a distraction to prevent her from occasionally walking around with her potty on her head just before bath-time.

On the off-chance that a new-found fear of the dark was the cause, I bought one of those gentle night lights – the light from which turned out to be not that gentle, unless your idea of ‘gentle’ light is more akin to the blinding death of a star.

Some forums I’ve looked at have suggested removing the cot bars altogether, so that her bed is more like, well, a bed. However, I’m still not comfortable with the idea of her getting up and wandering around on her own at night. Plus, removing the bars on this particular cot would seemingly require more pairs of hands than a Formula 1 pit crew and a Master’s degree in engineering.

So, with no steady return to the good old times of sleeping through, we just have to assume that this is just part of her being a toddler. Another phase – albeit one that seems to be lasting longer than other phases. In the meantime, we’ll have to wait and hope, whilst pulling over the spare duvet and saying “Goodnight” to the magical land of downstairs.

You had one job

I’ve sometimes struggled with this blog in that I get periods of writers block and can often go weeks – even months – without being able to think of anything new to put down on screen. This lack of inspiration can also spill over into my parenting as, during periods when I’m in charge of entertaining our daughter, I sometimes draw a complete blank – spending so much time trying to think about new, fun methods of entertainment when I could be actually interacting with her instead.  Fortunately, my wife is brilliantly creative like this, so I’ve often survived Daddy-and-daughter time by basically copying her ideas. For instance, I used to love building dens when I was younger but had never even thought about it as a way of keeping M entertained until my wife built a blanket-and-garden chair construction in the garden a few Saturdays ago. The following day, I tried to replicate this concept in the living room, although my effort was not quite as good…

Bad Den

Bad Den

On another occasion, I thought I was being slightly more creative by turning a simple game of ‘Peepo’ into ‘Hide-and-seek’, using a couple of M’s toys as participants. In theory, it could have worked. In practice, it worryingly turned into ‘The Blair Witch Project’…

*Shudder*

*Shudder*

I was again stuck for inspiration a couple of Sundays ago, when my wife was due to attend a spa day. Having foregone the idea of any forward planning whatsoever, I decided to go with one of my default measures, a trip to the local park. After all, there were swings, slides and lots of ducks to be pointed at, all sure-fire winners in the eyes of my daughter. As the weather was nice and I’d decided to go over lunchtime, a decision that had everything absolutely nothing to do with my hope of M’s afternoon nap coinciding with the football, I’d gone into the kitchen to make a packed lunch, safe in the knowledge that M was quite happy playing with a jigsaw. Or so I thought. Turning around to put the lunch ingredients back into the fridge, I noticed that my fish-oil capsule pot had been knocked on the floor, opened and with its contents littered on the floor next to my daughter. That horrible sinking moment of dread kicked in as I panicked, tried to recall my first-aid training and reached over to her, lifted her up and slapped her on the back, before realising that she wasn’t actually choking.

What I hadn’t realised up until that moment was that M could now reach up to the kitchen work surface and pick up/knock off small objects, such as, oh I don’t know, a pot of fish oil capsules. But, in all honesty I’d had warning. For a while now, M has been able to reach up to the top of the freezer (which sits just below the counter for those of you who like detailed information about kitchen layouts) and has used a fair chunk of her time continually pressing and un-pressing the temperature button. It’s happened so often that I’ve now completely forgotten what this button *actually* does and whether having it either pressed or un-pressed is the default setting. My theory is that I’ll know which one is wrong when the kitchen floor gets a lot wetter. Still, at least that would mean we could finally get rid of the huge tub of ‘Fruits of the forest’ that has taken up around 1/3 of our freezer space for what seems like a decade. Anyway, it was only a matter of time before she reached even higher.

But, back to the panic: I rang my wife, despite knowing that a potential swallowing incident isn’t exactly conducive to a relaxing day at the spa. I say potential, because there was no evidence, apart from some burping/hiccupping that may have been unrelated. “It’s only been half an hour” said my wife, in part humour/part exasperation, upon being relayed the drama. “Have you looked it up? She sounds happy enough,” she continued, obviously hearing M babbling away at the other end. It was true – she did seem happy enough and in fact, was actually quite amused by her own burping. “If she seems happy, then I’m not worried”, said my wife, “but keep an eye on her”. This was then followed by the more obvious question “Does her breath smell of fish?”

It didn’t.

Having got off the phone and sat with my daughter whilst she belched over the small plastic streets of her ‘Happy Land’ set, I took the opportunity to Google (other search engines are available) what could happen if a child swallows a fish-oil capsule. I wasn’t expecting complete piece of mind because, personally, I’ve never searched for any kind of symptom on the internet without subsequently picking up on the worst possible scenario and running with it. Of course, this being the wonderful World Wide Web, various pieces of advice cropped up, mainly along these lines:

“THE CAPSULES ARE A CHOKING HAZARD” (True, but as any swallowed capsule/s appeared to have fully worked their way down, even I figured it was safe to cross that one off).

“One capsule won’t cause them any harm, other than the possibility of an upset stomach”  (I’d happily take a dose of Nappygeddon as the only side-effect of my mistake, it would be the least I’d deserve).

“It could actually be good for your child” (Hmm…the pot says ‘unsuitable for children under the age of 5’).

“EVEN IF YOU’RE NOT SURE, GET THEM SEEN BY YOUR LOCAL GP IMMEDIATELY” (This was the one that made me panic again as well as wonder what sort of magic land this person lives in – where they can just walk in and get a GP appointment straight away).

Having fretted some more, I thought the best thing to do was to take my wife’s advice and just watch her closely. So, we did go to the park, went on the swings, went on the slide, watched and pointed at a lot of ducks, ate lunch in the sunshine and had a little run around. M seemed completely fine, the burping had long since stopped and there was no sign either that day or the next of any after-effects from any capsules that may or may not have been swallowed in the first place. These were the thoughts going through my head as I kept trying to re-assure myself, as well as get rid of the horrendous guilt that follows incidents such as this. It could have been far worse, of course, and I tried to switch my mind away when I thought about the potentially more catastrophic consequences that could have ensued for my precious little girl and that I’d be solely responsible for.

But, upon reflection, and after a couple of days of no side-effects whatsoever (not even an explosive nappy incident), it has taught me not to sometimes just go with the flow and not worry too much about entertaining her, but instead to make sure that I’ve at least got the basics of child care right first. Now, I didn’t leave my Wellman tablets in the den, did I?